Marketing Challenges for Cause-Based Organizations


What happens when your product is a message, and the goal of that message is to get the community, investors and the media to believe in your cause and ultimately support you? Whether the product is gathering donations, collecting signatures or signing volunteers up there is just as much of a need for marketing as any good or service. Just as any product it must have value to the consumer, but what if the value is not tangible or has no guarantee of being accrued? How do we get people to believe in what we are trying to do? (Hint: Start a conversation, and read why it’s important here)

These are the challenges that nonprofits, coalitions, government programs and other cause –based entities face. Challenges surrounding business strategy, brand positioning, market research and other marketing dilemmas are constrained by factors such as limited budgets and resources, public opinion, uncertain sustainability and unique marketing success measures.

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Limited Resources and Unique Success Measures

Cause-based organizations often have very limited budgets, which can tend to mean that marketing initiatives get pushed to the bottom of the list. One factor contributing to this trend is that marketing efforts cannot typically be measured by traditional means such as ROI. Marketers in nonprofits, for example, might have to get creative about how they measure their success. They might monitor their website and social media traffic during a campaign, or inspect sign-up rates on petitions and volunteer lists. These can be good indicators internally, but what happens when the organization reaches out to investors or the government for an increase in budget or resources? Proving that marketing initiatives have been successful in order to secure more capital for marketing efforts can be hard to sell based on these unique measures, particularly in a new or start-up organization.

Public Opinion

Success among many cause-based organizations is rooted in positive public opinion and public support. The Common Core State Standards Initiative, for example, is a program developed for voluntary adaptation into state school curriculum. Public support for this program was imperative in making it possible, as government, teachers and parents had to show their support in order for it to be initiated at state level. Common Core has somewhat of an image problem, with negative views from many parties, some who don’t even know exactly what it is. This negative publicity creates a complete barrier between supporting and opposing parties, leaving out room for compromises.

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This effect of public opinion plagues many cause-based organizations, and leads to solutions derived from questions like: How does the messaging sound to multiple parties? What are areas of our cause that matter to society at large? How can negative opinions be prompted into effective discussion to better the cause and message? While public opinion and constructive criticism or praise can be very different things, the message that a cause-based organization takes to deal with it is very important. The role of marketing in this situation should be to act as a middleman between the organization and the community to sculpt effective and brand cohesive messaging.


The sustainability of cause-based entities is often either unknown or pre-determined. The unknown time frame makes marketing efforts difficult. For example, a political candidate during the primaries does not have a definite time-frame on how long their campaign efforts will last for. In this event, the politician and the starting campaign team don’t know how long they will actually have to work for, since it is all determined by the voters. So the problem then becomes how does the marketing team create a plan when they don’t know how long they will be planning for? Short term objectives are often guided by long term objectives, so not knowing the exact long term goal can mean that marketers have to improvise and plan as they go. While this isn’t exactly a textbook strategy, it is real life marketing. One thing that helps guide marketers in this situation is determining the overall brand identity and message and sticking to it, crafting messages around it along the way.What's our long-term timeline-.png

Key Takeaways

Marketing for nonprofits, coalitions, government programs and other cause-based organizations can result in marketing headaches. Funds are tied up or dwindling, success measures aren’t cookie-cutter, public opinion is tearing down your carefully crafted message and you aren’t sure if anyone will even care about your cause in two years. It’s not all bad news though, because cause-based organizations are important to many groups of people, and can have a real effect on society and major social, political and environmental change. The work matters, even if it comes at a higher cost for marketing.

Have you ever worked on a marketing strategy for a cause-based marketing? If you have, what are some issues you have experienced in the marketing department? Or if you have not, are these issues something you have dealt with? Leave me a comment and let’s start a discussion. You can also Tweet me your experiences with the hashtag #MyMktgStory at @akannakeefe.



Community and Conversation, a Success for Marketing

When you Tweet out a brand hashtag, attend a brand event or interact with a brand in other ways for the latest, coolest campaign you are adding to a brand conversation, and you are participating with a community around a brand. It’s all part of a marketing strategy, but it doesn’t feel pushy or promotional. Why? Because the consumer is willingly participating in the conversation and the community, which ultimately makes the entire experience more authentic. Check out this blog article for some examples of what community marketing can include.

Community marketing focuses on existing consumers, and engaging them in your brand.

This leads us to community marketing and why it matters.

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First, Let’s Talk About Community.

A community is a group of people that share common beliefs, interests and goals. Communities are also social organizations, and can share similar cultures. As humans, we naturally gather into communities, and we thrive in them as social beings. This is good news to marketing, and may be interesting especially if you enjoy the psychology behind marketing.

Communities Share

Communities share among themselves, and this is where word-of-mouth marketing and active consumer interaction come into play. If you can engage your current customers, you can continue to build relationships with them. This is an entirely different approach than marketing to potential consumers.

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Communities become brand advocates, and typically we also see the innovators and early adopters in communities. An overplayed, but valuable example is Apple enthusiasts. Apple has built one of the strongest communities surrounding their brand. This community is rooted in the fact that they believe in the vision of Apple, and they support it 100%. This is why people line up for hours for new releases, and why people will argue undoubtedly why Apple is better than any other personal device brand. The Apple community will share why they love Apple with friends, family and even strangers, creating a network of Apple advocates around the world.

Communities Support

To discuss and illustrate this point let’s start with an example.


Fitbit, the smart fitness device has created a community to help people support one another through their fitness goals. Fitbit uses a game-type setup through their app and website to get users to compete with friends and family. This creates a culture of support, and a little bit of healthy competition, among users. The seamless integration of the software with the fitness device is a great selling point, and the competition that users have with one another gets them talking about the Fitbit and spreading the word.

Why Should You Create a Conversation?

Conversations are one way to create authenticity and trust with your consumers. While social media is the one platform we may think of when creating and sustaining conversations with consumers, there are other ways to do it. Community marketing can happen wherever the community is, and the conversation should be something the community is interested in.

Authentic Conversations

One of the struggles that marketers have when trying to have a conversation with a consumer is how to make it seem authentic. One of the best examples of where these authentic and real-life conversations take place is on Snapchat. This Hubspot article goes into depth about it, and brings up some great points. Two of the points that the article makes are that Snapchat “enables realness” and “puts social media back into these personal, organic moments”. This one-to-one type interaction enables conversation from a brand to the consumer in a more authentic and down-to-earth kind of way. While Snapshat is just one example, the important thing to keep in mind is that it’s all about authenticity and being real with consumers.

Key Takeaways

Marketing is trending towards more authentic experiences and interactions and building and sustaining communities. Real life, down to earth brands are characteristics that consumers are looking for and willing to support. Having a brand community and participating in conversations with consumers are two ways to enhance a brand. Are you involved in any brand communities? Do you participate in brand conversations? Tell me below and Tweet me @akannakeefe with the hashtag #mymktgstory.